Protests spread in Pakistan over Shiite killings
Minority leaders and even mainstream politicians are growing more bold in calling on the country's military to crack down on anti-Shiite militants.
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Hazara protesters are now demanding that the Army formally take charge of Balochistan province, so that the military can formally be blamed when Hazaras are not protected. The confrontation has emerged after the deadliest year on record for Shiites in Pakistan, with more than 400 killed in attacks in 2012, according to Human Rights Watch.Skip to next paragraph
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According to local media, the Prime Minister is considering different options to diffuse the situation, including dismissing the provincial government and imposing a state of emergency in the province.
At a protest in Islamabad, slogans against the Army like "Behind this terrorism is the uniform" could be heard.
“Such widespread outrage is new. We are seeing the Pakistani civil society taking up the Shia genocide as a humanitarian issue now, which in the past was thought to be a sectarian issue,” says Ali Irtiza, a Hazara attending the Islamabad protest.
Mr. Irtiza lost his brother in an attack in 2010 in Quetta. He now lives in Islamabad and says it is too dangerous for his family to go back.
Irtiza explains that the demand by his community back home for the military to take over the province is because many believe that the military already rules the province secretly. “By asking it to take over, they want to expose them, so that tomorrow the blame does not lie with the civilian government,” Irtiza adds, saying the civilian government is helpless in front of the military control.
The Pakistani military has been trying for decades to suppress a Baloch nationalist movement that argues the resource-rich province has fared poorly as part of Pakistan and should be independent. The separatists emphasize Baloch ethnic identity; the Army has historically drawn on Islamic identity to unify Pakistan and discredit ethnic nationalist movements.
Against that backdrop, the Hazara community has become a target in Balochistan by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group that believes Shiites are heretics. The Hazaras have a different racial profile than other groups in the province, making them identifiable as likely Shiites.
Although social media is buzzing with the protests and blame of the military, the mainstream Urdu media in Pakistan has left unexplored any possible linkages to the military and even to the religious differences behind the killings. Instead, most outlets describe the violence as local ethnic tensions unrelated to either Baloch nationalism or to Islamic identity.
“The Pakistani media is self-censoring and takes cue from the military establishment,” says Dr. Mohammad Taqi, who has written extensively on minority issues in the country. By identifying the issue as ethnic, the logic of Pakistan as an Islamic state remains as a unifying force, he explains. “Another factor that keeps media from clearly identifying the victims as Shiites is because a fear of reprisal from jihadists."